Iran used "intimidation tactics" when interrogating the 10 American sailors arrested in the Persian Gulf in January, according to a Navy investigation into the incident.
Members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp Navy interrogated the U.S. crewmembers individually to obtain information about U.S. forces, according to the declassified investigation findings released Thursday. Iran’s detention of the American personnel overnight on Jan. 12 violated international law and sovereign immunity, investigators concluded.
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Details surrounding the incident, which has fueled efforts by Iran to embarrass the United States, have been sparse since U.S. Central Command released a preliminary timeline of the event days after the arrests. The newly released findings cast light on the events leading up to the sailors’ detention, as well as their treatment and interrogation while in Iranian custody.
"Interrogators employed intimidation tactics such as slapping the table, spinning the captive’s chair, or threatening to move them to the Iranian mainland; no crewmember was harmed," the findings state.
Iranian personnel demanded to know what the U.S. boats were doing wading into Iranian territorial waters, where they came from, and "where their ‘mothership’ was." The Iranians interrogated the crewmembers as a group and later individually interrogated seven of the 10 Americans in a separate room. The sole female crewmember’s interrogation was also recorded.
The Iranians asked questions about U.S. forces and also collected passwords to the sailors’ personal phones and laptops during their overnight detention.
"Crewmembers response strategies and actual answers varied; some were honest while others lied or played dumb," the findings state.
Some crewmembers provided information such as their name, rank, and serial number when asked.
The Iranians gave food to the American crewmembers and attempted to film them when they began to eat.
While investigators found the American personnel to have been "derelict" in their duties and faulted multiple commanders for lack of leadership, they also concluded that Iran violated the sailors’ right of innocent passage under international law by arresting them at gunpoint.
Iran’s navy further breached the principle of sovereign immunity by boarding, searching, and seizing the boats, and replacing the United States flag with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps flag. Iran also violated the principle by detaining, searching, and video recording the American crews, investigators concluded.
Iranian state media have published images and video of the sailors in captivity, including pictures of one of the captured sailors appearing to cry during detention. A video released by Iranian state television showed one of the sailors, who was later identified by news sources as Lt. David Nartker, apologizing for entering Iranian territorial waters and thanking the Iranians for their "hospitality."
The Navy investigation said the sailor was pressured by the Iranians to issue the apology. On the morning of Jan. 13, the crewmembers were "provided breakfast and told that they would be released if they cooperated," the findings explain. The Iranians again filmed the Americans, instructing them to "eat and act happy."
An Iranian interviewer gave a "script" to one of the crewmembers, whose name is redacted, and a uniformed Iranian "told him he had to apologize."
The crewmember "reworded his responses to questions through several iterations," the findings state. "The Iranians told him that the crews would not be released unless he answered exactly as told. Although there were no weapons pointed at or near him and he was not threatened, eventually [the crewmember] complied with the directions given and answered according to the script."
After the completed interview, the crewmembers were blindfolded and escorted back to their riverine command boats, and were sent into international waters.
Investigators concluded that the crewmember failed to uphold the code of conduct by making the scripted on-camera statement.
In addition to Iran’s violation of international law, the Navy’s investigation documented the failings of the American crews and their leadership and recommended administrative and disciplinary action be taken against several American personnel.
Before the release of the investigation’s findings, the Navy had already relieved two commanders of their duties because of their involvement in the events. Service leaders told reporters Thursday that a third individual had likewise been punished and that six more could also be subject to disciplinary action.
Critics slammed the Obama administration for its response to Iran regarding the incident. Secretary of State John Kerry was swift to cast the incident as a diplomatic victory following the sailors’ release, thanking Iran for negotiating their freedom.